Friday, April 29, 2011

The Buddhist Spaniard in a Café Called Peace

"Politeness is the art of choosing among one's real thoughts."

Abel Stevens

In the seconds after the gentleman sat down opposite my inviting, mostly unoccupied table, a brief blackout occurred, plunging the snug little café into night, and had I been more prone to superstitious thinking, I'd consider it an omen equally dark.

"My name is Emmanuel," he told me with a rather pronounced accent. 'Spanish' I thought. Emmanuel is supposed to be the name of the prophesied Messiah and Christians maintained that Jesus fulfilled that prophecy - even though his name was, you know, Jesus and not Emmanuel. This Emmanuel seated across from me looked like he's at an age when midlife crises occur. His eyes were wrinkled with the tell of an easy smiler. I learned that Emmanuel had left his wife and kids back in Spain. He was, in his own words, "taking a holiday from family" and was studying Mahayana Buddhism in McLeod Ganj. Naturally, he enquired after my personal beliefs and I decided to be forthright.

"I'm an atheist," I said and instantly carved an expression of puzzlement on his face. I assumed that his English wasn't too hot.

"Ateo," I repeated in his mother tongue and also wrote it on an old airline boarding pass I was using as a bookmark at the time to elucidate. I have no idea where or when I learned the Spanish masculine word for 'atheist' but it was rattling about in my head along with a few other Spanish terms like muchas gracias, buenos días, burro, enchilada, burrito, taco, chimichanga, cucaracha, Día de los Muertos... and tetas. I learned the last one from Latina porn.

First, he displayed his thrill of finally understanding what I meant (Oh, ateo!), followed immediately by another kind of confusion (Ateo?).

"But I look at your face," he protested, gesturing at my face like he's miming wiping a window. "You don't look like ateo to me!"

I was blown away. There's this urban legend bandied around in atheist circles which paints some religious people as stupid hicks who would respond to the exposure of someone's admittance of atheism by pointing out that the confessor does not in fact have the appearance of atheist. I never really believed it. I always thought that it's just a stereotype similar to the dumb blonde or the smart Asian created to make fun of the perceived ignorance and close-mindedness of the faithful. So it's true, I thought excitedly. These people do exist! What do they think atheists look like before encountering one in the flesh? Did they expect horns, a tail and a suspicious stench of sulphur? Wild hair and a pentagram tattooed prominently on our foreheads?

Point of information (as they say in Parliamentary-style debates): Atheists look just like everyone else. Surveys showed that we atheists are usually smarter, less bigoted, more decent, and better educated compared to the average God-fearing person, but there's really nothing physical to distinguish us from the rest of the human race.

The conversation took a turn into the question of ethical and moral behaviour, and I braced myself for another stereotypical question which rumour has that countless atheists facepalmed at. Emmanuel did not disappoint.

"You are ateo, you believe in nothing. How do you know right from wrong?"

I didn't sigh theatrically, but it was a near miss. I explained briskly the apparent altruistic behaviour in social animals, its basis in evolution, and how it manifests in the mental process we refer to as the conscience. An atheist, like other human beings, have a conscience. In fact, it's a known psychological phenomenon - documented using fMRI - that engaging in moral and generous behaviour lights up the mesolimbic reward pathway in our brains, much like how food and sex do. In English, that means doing good feels good. Mettā, as they say in Buddhism, is its own reward. We as species, excepting the few odd sociopaths, are literally hardwired to enjoy being kind and giving.

Emmanuel was either impressed by that short impromptu lecture or was really good at feigning awe. "Not many people your age knows this much, or is able to explain things so well," he said. I immediately wondered if I was being served a covert insult. Ever since an evolution-denying moron called Kenny told me that I would make a good Christian because of my intelligence, I became sceptical of all compliments paid to me by religious folks.

Peace Cafe, McLeod Ganj
I saw this hanging in the Peace Café. Ironically, you can get Chinese food there.

Have you heard of Karmapa?" he continued, writing the name on my makeshift bookmark right under my 'ATEO'. "He is a great spiritual leader among the Tibetan Buddhists, and he is also young like you. Everyone who met him - Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Muslims, even ateos like you - was impressed by his wisdom."

Hon, I'm not even impressed by the Dalai Lama, my mind's mouth began sassily, and only my well-trained prefrontal cortex stopped that quip from reaching my vocal chords. Also, my suspicions were confirmed - I was being covertly insulted. Emmanuel was likening me to a brainwashed twenty-five year old pretender who thinks he's the 17th reincarnation of a tulku who claims to be a manifestation of the deified Avalokitesvara, Chenrezig, Kannon or Guanyin (depending on which language you speak). I'd sooner swallow a metre-long horse cock than swallow that. This Karmapa fellow is clearly brain-damaged, delusional, or a fraud - far from being the wise, enlightened guru he's posing as. And I bet he doesn't know the Spanish word for 'tits' either.

Besides, there are currently two different assholes claiming to be the present reincarnation of Karmapa. Clearly, this whole reincarnating lama racket is full of shit.

"He sounds interesting," I remarked diplomatically.

"You are still very young," said Emmanuel, referencing the lightness of my age for the second time that night. He actually wrote our ages down side by side to contrast them, my 24 beside his 57. "There's still a lot of time to learn and discover more knowledge."

It was quite oblique but I fully grasped his intent, from experience if nothing else. What's wrong with being an atheist? Kenny the Christian also mentioned his advanced age to me as if that means a damn thing. Different old people believe in different things, and there are old atheists as well. I noticed that old believers tended to try to cash in on their seniority as if a deteriorating mental faculty functions as an asset in discovering cosmic truths.

"A lot of young people in Spain also break away from their parents' religion. Not to become ateo, usually, but they do this because they want an identity apart from their mothers and fathers." He shared this opinion with all the air of a retired schoolteacher (which he was). At this juncture, I was feeling rubbed in all the wrong ways. This is yet another cliché that atheists, particularly younger ones, frequently encounter. It's a trite dismissal of a person's atheism as a rebellious "phase" which one is expected to grow out of. Man, this Emmanuel was certainly proving to be a treasure trove of caricatures in atheist lore. I wanted to ask if he broke away from his parents' Catholic faith because he too crave an identity beyond that of his padre and madre, because he sounded like he's speaking from his long and ancient experience.

I decided to move my queen.

"Do you know that it's Buddhism which led me to atheism?" I began. "In the Kālāma Sūtra, it was told that as Buddha was passing through the village of Kesaputta, he was asked by its inhabitants - the Kalamas - for advice on how decide whose teachings to follow, for there are many holy men and ascetics passing through who endorses their own brand of knowledge while dismissing others."

"Buddha supposedly said: It is proper for you, Kalamas, to doubt, to be uncertain; uncertainty has arisen in you about what is doubtful. Come, Kalamas. Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another's seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, 'The monk is our teacher.'"

"Buddha espouses empiricism over these other avenues of learning. After reading the Kālāma Sūtra, I started questioning all beliefs, including my own. After discarding everything that isn't rational, demonstrable or beneficial, I became an atheist."

Emmanuel's smile thinned a little. "I have not heard of this sutra," he said hesitantly. I was courteous enough to abstain from telling him that he's not yet too old, and that there's still a lot of time for him to learn and discover new knowledge. I also successfully restrained myself from writing down the number of years I was a Buddhist versus the mere weeks he had considered himself to be one.

"You should look it up," I told him, sipping from my Diet Coke like it's victory champagne.

The Chinese atheist in a café called Peace,
k0k s3n w4i

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Relay Hunger Strike in McLeod Ganj for Ngaba

"Fasting for anything is a pointless gesture that will achieve exactly nothing, much like intercessory prayers, live sacrifices and communing with nature spirits. And no one's going to give a shit if you only stop eating from eleven to five. How is the Chinese government going to react to this? 'Oooh, you not eat for six hours? We totally see error in our ways now!'? If you want anything done, do a hunger strike. Imagine the press it'll generate once the first starving striker dies."

Kok Sen Wai on the Students Worldwide Fast
in Solidarity with People in Ngaba, Tibet

This morning, I had a mind to visit the Tsuglagkhang temple complex and perhaps do the kora, a ritual circuit, around the edifice just for kicks. There I was met with this,

Relay Hunger Strike in McLeod Ganj for Ngaba
"We are hungry! For freedom!"

The place was crawling with the agents of the press and distinguished personages I do not recognise were being interviewed about this relay hunger strike campaign organised by the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC), a radical non-government body of activists labouring towards nothing less than the complete independence of Tibet from the governance of the People's Republic of China. Their current battle is the present hot issue in Ngaba, a county in Tibet, where recently (as recently as the 16th of March, 2011), a 20-year-old monk named Phuntsok set himself on fire - reportedly to mark the 3rd anniversary of the Historic Uprising of 2008 when the China's People's Armed Police fired live rounds at unarmed protestors (including monks from the Kirti Monastery), killing seven and wounding several. I'm assuming that Phuntsok means "Balls of Fire-Tempered Steel" in Tibetan.

Tsewang Rigzin Talking to Reporters
Tsewang Rigzin, President of the TYC and consummate polyglot.

So, how did the Chinese government respond to this? Predictably, with their usual stunning lack of PR finesse. They launched a "patriotic reeducation" campaign in scare quotes and threw Chinese soldiers at the problem until it goes away. According to a statement released by the TYC,

The Chinese authorities have imposed a severe lockdown and armed guards are patrolling in and around the monastery completely restricting the movement of monks to go outside and the pilgrims to visit the monastery to pray and offer food to the monks. The innocent monks are suffering without food and the situation in Ngaba is very tense. From March 16th to April 12th 2011, 17 monks from Kirti Monastery and 17 local Tibetans have been arrested.

Local residents of Ngaba learned on April 12th that the Chinese authorities were planning to forcibly remove monks from the monastery and blocked the entrance. The armed police tried to break through the crowd by severely beating the people and unleashing trained dogs in the crowd resulting in many bitten by dogs and injured. The restricting of food access to the monks and unleashing of trained dogs in the crowd is the most barbaric act in this century and complete violation of human rights.

The above is by no means an objective source - it's the TYC's agenda to paint the PRC in as poor a light as possible - but the alternative is what China has to say on the issue. And as everybody knows (excepting the Chinese people because they don't have Google), the Chinese propaganda machine is full of 牛粪.

Hunger Strike for Ngaba, Nuns
Hungry nuns.

Of course, this is a relay hunger strike. It means they take turns skipping meals. Since Chinese authorities are intentionally embargoing the flow of victuals to the Tibetan monks in the Kirti Monastery, my guess is they aren't going to give a 飞行的性交 if a few more monks and nuns elsewhere threaten to lose a few pounds.

Yes, I know the point is to pressure the toothless human rights watchdogs worldwide and other world governments to intervene. We'll see how that works out. Today is the 5th day counting.

In other news,

Bob Marley's Biggest Fan
I must ask him if he likes Bob Marley.

This Tibetan bloke is sporting an Afro and a pair of pink heart-shaped sunglasses. That is all.

P.S. All these happened about 12:00 PM, Indian time. It's 3:00 PM now. I'd have reported this earlier but I went to grab a couple of bowls of laphing first. The hunger strikers made me feel peckish.

k0k s3n w4i

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Between Lives, Between Worlds

"Hold on
One more time with feeling
Try it again
Breathing's just a rhythm
Say it in your mind
Until you know that the words are right
This is... why we... fight"

One More Time With Feeling (2007)
by Regina Spektor

This entry was written on the 16th of April, 2011.

It'll be another four hours before a bus would pass through this neck of the woods to take me to the antiquated ciy of Chamba - I am, how you say, "in between places". I had voraciously consumed all the books I've hauled with me to the Hindu subcontinent, including an old, dogeared copy of Aravind Adiga's White Tiger I found lying about in a guesthouse in which I boarded. It was digested between lunch and dinner of the same day. I had also exhausted all the entertainment my MP3 player had to offer. So here I sit, on a grassy knoll in a clearing in the middle of a pine forest called Khajjiar with a stray pooch lying by my side (this sleeping dog I let lie) with nothing to do. Or rather, there's nothing here I find appealing enough to do. Should I desire it, I can ride horses, chase sheeps, paraglide, zorb, or genuflect at the feet of one of the 16th century carved wooden Pandavas in the 12th century Khajji Naag temple - but I elected instead to retreat into the confessional booth of my mind with a pen in one hand and a well-travelled copybook in the other.

Khajjiar is dubbed the Mini Switzerland of India and it amuses me the same way as when a 5-year-old put on a blanket cape and call himself Superman. My other home, Malacca, calls itself the Venice of the East unironically. It may even be true, historically speaking, but the Venetians are just going to think it's cute.

My other home.

Somehow, I've come to think of India as someplace I belong to, regardless of whether she wants me or not. It's not because I have a strong affinity towards her cultures. It's not because I am particularly fond of her many, many people. I can't speak her frenzied languages and have no plans to pick them up. I know, however, that she is a country I'll return to again and again for the rest of my life. In a sense, India is my second birthplace - to whatever a degree a person can be meaningfully reborn. I came here to study in 2006, a boy in love with a girl he's certain was the love of his life. The boy returned a man in 2009, in love with a woman he hopes will be the love of his life.

It's cold here in Himachal Pradesh, being blanketed permanently in the wintry shadow of the Himalayas. I brought along my favourite sweater; a heavy grey hoodie the Ex-Grrrfriend™ gifted me for my birthday in 2005, and I'm wearing it right now. I was travelling in Sarawak at the time when she called and asked cryptically in I prefer grey or maroon. I have worn it regularly for the past six years and counting; to India, across India and then back again. Do I treasure it for nostalgic reasons? I like to think I don't - it's just a very durable, warm piece of garment I happen to own.

The dog lying beside me is kicking about in its doggy nap. It must be dreaming of running.

Phoebe doesn't mind the hoodie - or at least, she showed not the slightest sign of minding. She is the best girlfriend any guy can ask for and I mean every word I said. There are times when I catch myself slipping into a state of surprise at how lucky I am to have found her. Like right this moment, for instance. She is understanding, patient, rarely jealous, funny, smart, well-read, a great confidant, a lover of animals and a damn cute sight for sore eyes. She also scaled my teeth for free in the living room of her apartment while I shine a pen torch into my gob. I found her in India.

I was a Buddhist when I left for India, the place where Buddhism erupted around a man I used to (and still do) refer to as "Sid". Here, I lost all my childish notions of karma, the afterlife, supernatural beings and reincarnation. It's ironic that in a land of a thousand gods, I returned godless. And in the stead of religion, I picked up an unquenchable thirst for travel, started a weblog, and began what I think will be a lifelong love affair with films. I think that's a steal of a barter.

That boy I once was lived until the ripe, old age of 19 before he died. He and I - should we meet in say, some hypothetical metaphysical paradox, we would find almost nothing in common between us. I daresay we would hate each other on first sight.

My bus would arrive in an hour and I suppose I better get in position to flag it down. I don't want to miss it. I honestly don't fancy a 25-kilometre hike to Chamba after dark in these mountains. I heard there are black bears about.

P.S. I arrived in Chamba safely without running into any ursine incidents. That night, I asked around for a bookstore to restock on essential travelling supplies and was told firmly by a local chemist: "There are no bookshops in Chamba." The horror.

Self-declared honorary Indian,
k0k s3n w4i

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Stories Around a Dinner Table

"Be nice to whites, they need you to rediscover their humanity."

Desmond Tutu

The evening was grey and the clouds had already started giving a preview of things to come. I peered through the window into the yellow warmth within the Japanese vegetarian café and saw a monotony of whiteness. The patrons that is. There are Ku Klux Klan rallies that feature less white people than McLeod Ganj. It's the home away from home of the Dalai Lama, and if there's one thing that white people love, it's that guy. Almost all of them will never get the chance to meet the Buddhist rock star, but they enjoy milling about town on the one in a million bajillion sextillion chance that he'd walk into a restaurant they happen to be in for steaming bowl of thukpa.

Spotting an empty table, I walked gladly in to claim it for coloured people everywhere. A pair of laminated menu cards were submitted wordlessly to my purview by a Japanese man whose age I cannot place - at least not without a decade's margin of error. The neighboring table was colonised by the European union; its members conversing loudly and excitedly in broken English about how much Far Eastern mysticism they had swallowed hook, line and sinker today. Then, without saying a word or even making eye contact, the lady sitting closest to me turned and placed an empty bowl - recently denuded of vittles - on to my table. That was quickly followed by half a dozen more dirty dishes which her companions had recently supped from. The fact that there was an Asian man sitting there did not faze her the slightest. Several questions began a cage match for dominance in my head: Did she think that her behaviour was somehow acceptable in this part of the world? Am I so yellow that she can't see through my camouflage in this light? Can her looks be improved with a generous application of the heel of my boot to her pasty face?

I bore her trespass like a gentleman, politely called for a waitress to clear her mess and carefully explained why there were empty plates and bowls on my table when I hadn't even ordered anything yet without using words like stupid, white, and bitch. After telling her that I would like to have the vegetarian sushi dinner set, I returned to Sitka, Alaska, within the pages of my Michael Chabon novel but not for long. My set meal came after a few short moments and I noted, with the nip of slight disappointment, that half of it were kappamaki. The rest had tamago, tomato and some unidentified tsukemono in them, and they were served without wasabi so I was obliged to ask for some.

I proceeded to photograph my dinner because I'm a blogger par excellence and should anyone ask about my potentially embarrassing habit, I already had an excuse ready: I'd say I'm emulating Nakamatsu Yoshiro. I was persuading my miso soup to pull a more seductive pose for the camera when a pair of Belgians materialised and asked if it's okay for them to share my table.

"Please do! I don't mind at all!" I lied. I threw in a huuuge, borderline sarcastic smile just because I could.

"Good evening!" That was the indeterminately-aged Japanese restauranteur greeting the Belgian couple. Interesting. How come I didn't get such a warm welcome when he shoved the menu cards under my nose? I wondered but perished the thought. I began feigning great interest in my soulless sushi, adamant that I would not allow myself to be roped into another pointless conversation where white people tell me about all the awesome strange Asian stuff that they had been doing. After about a minute, I decided that I could no longer ignore the silently building pressure that my newly-found table mates were beaming onto the top of my head. I looked up and sure enough, the she-Belgian was wearing a 'Let's connect, magic oriental man!' expression on her face. I racked my brain for all things Belgian but all I remembered was that they speak French and that they are famous for chocolates and Poirot. I know a lot more about France and Sweden, but that's because I listen to their music and watch their films. But Belgium? Meh.

They began telling me about their volunteer work helping the poor, benighted Tibetans by teaching them French-accented English, and I had to forcefully stop my eyeballs from rolling upwards. They divulged that they were attending a seminar after dinner about how oppressed the natives in Tibet are, and asked me if I wanted to come along to help them pity the Tibetans more (I fibbed that I would swing by later). They also explained to me that they had carefully avoided all the "touristy" places in their travel through India - presumably because they think they are better than everyone else. I had an almost irresistible itch to reach out, grab them by the shoulders and shake them because they were in the middle of McLeod Fucking Ganj right that moment.

They mentioned that they had attended some religious talks, so I asked if they are Buddhists.

"We don't have a religion," explained the Belgian girl. "We mix and match. We take the best from all religions." My mind was shouting 'Fuck you' at the top of its voice at this point. All they need to do was tell me that they are also learning yoga and reiki to make it the Most Generic Conversation with White People Vacationing in McLeod Ganj I've Ever Had. I am not opposed to fraternising with foreigners, but I am certainly against engaging in the same dialogue over and over and over again like I'm in some sort of travellers' hell.

After what felt like several eternities stacked on top of one another like a layer cake of forever, they left and I was finally allowed to return my attention to my dinner - but like every crappy plot twist ever, a Slovak man and an American woman asked if I would mind them joining me.

"Not at all," I said with a practiced, simulated smile. "I'm done."

At that, I stood up, paid and left with my meal unfinished. I decided that I wasn't hungry enough for cucumber rolls after all.

P.S. That was a week-old entry in my travel journal. I had since left McLeod Ganj and visited Palampur, Baijnath, Bir (pronounced "beer") and Billing, Joginder Nagar, and Dalhousie - where I'm writing from at the moment. I have not seen a single white person in three days.

The occasional racist,
k0k s3n w4i

Saturday, April 09, 2011

What I Did Yesterday

"When snow falls, nature listens."

Antoinette van Kleeff

Speaks a lot about my nature, really.

This is the first snowperson I ever built.

Anatomically Correct Snowwoman
TITillating, yes?

It's not one hundred percent anatomically accurate but given the time I had to work with before I was compelled by the impending dusk to descend from the glacier at Laka, I thought I did a pretty bang up job. I could probably expand the chesticles further, but I was afraid they might fall off.

The nipples are goat shit, by the way.

P.S. I also wrote my name in the snow with pee.

Rule 34'ed snow,
k0k s3n w4i

Thursday, April 07, 2011

A 6th of April Miracle at Triund

"The sky knows when its time to snow
You don't need to teach a seed to grow
It's just another ordinary miracle today"

Ordinary Miracle (2006) by Sarah McLachlan

I put this in writing so I'll never forget. This is the reason why I took up the pen.

In my four hour-hike over grey shale, grey granite and ripe brown mule excrements which paved the hanging road to Triund, I've exhausted the battery of my digital camera and it died the moment I reached that meadow cradled by the side of the world's bones. All I have to show for are these words, written hastily in a yellow ruled copybook in the midst of a day that shouldn't have been. Mr Suresh, who has run his stick-and-stones shanty of a teashop in this very spot for the past twenty years, near three thousand metres above sea level, told me that this is the first time he know of that snow fell on Triund in the spring month of April.

"Bad weather," he remarked apologetically, but to this boy from the malarial tropics of the Malay Archipelago, it was the furthest thing from bad. To him, snow is the thing of fables, fantasy novels, and foreign films. It was magic, fairy sprinkles and dream stuff.

And to think I almost missed it. I was huddled in another tiny teashop just thirty minutes below Triund with a lone Taiwanese she-hiker and the young proprietor of the spartan establishment, waiting out a frigid mountain shower. Yu (for that was her name) and I idly discussed the wiser choice of returning to lower ground for fear of being caught in a rainstorm on the cruel, exposed rocky outcrop we call our destination to slowly freeze our digits and ears off. Then we received our Sign. A beautiful, porcelain-skinned Korean girl dressed in an insubstantial pink Punjabi suit ghosted past the teashop's entrance.

"We are wearing hiking boots but here we are, talking about turning back. She only has sandals and yet, she's pressing on," said Yu, philosophically. "We have to go up now."

It was late in the afternoon. The mule drivers and enterprising tourist trappers huddled in their little tourist traps around their cook fires, muttering darkly about the freak meteorological phenomenon. The other pilgrims, to whom snow is commonplace and a nuisance, had all started their descent down to avoid worse weather they divined would forthcome - even Yu. I stayed. I stood unsheltered, facing the titanic spine of the Dhauladhar from whence the ice wind blew, bringing the echo of a winter past. I stared into the great abyss in the sky the colour of despondency as little dancing shadows of snowflakes - no two alike - floated down to meet me in the eye. They perished the second they touched the searing heat of my face; the dampness they left were transient but the memory of their cold lingered like a shy first kiss.

The clouds' bounty grew heavier - heavy enough that the stony ridge of Triund with its lush, grassy knolls began to surrender its hues under a fresh, pure silken sheet of snow; like a watercolour painting fading in a basin of water. The sins of ovine and caprine leavings hoarded over an age which serve as the humus of the meadowland were quickly censored by the brand new icing. Alas, it lasted but an hour, a nothing gust of time in the gales of eternity. The mercury was not nearly low enough to nurse the infant snow, and the moment the precipitation slackened, it all melted away like powdered sugar over a hot doughnut, glazing the landscape with wetness and a gentle sense of regret. Mi rtag pa, as the Tibetans would say. It's anicca. It's impermanent; never-lasting.

Perhaps the shopkeeper told a little white lie to make my maiden trek up Triund special. Maybe it blizzards every Wednesday up here in April since time immemorial. It matters not. What matters is that when I was standing right there with my eyes closed receiving the bittersweet caresses of the tsundere Daughters of Frost, I believed that a miracle had happened, and it happened just for me.

Happier than he has ever been,
k0k s3n w4i

Monday, April 04, 2011

I Have Arrived in McLeod Ganj

"Things that bother you
Never bother me
I feel happy and fine!
Living in the sunlight,
loving in the moonlight
Having a wonderful time!"

Livin' in the Sunlight,
Lovin' in the Moonlight (1968)
by Tiny Tim

Hey, it's me. I survived the positively polar 12-hour bus ride from the Tibetan Refugee Colony in Majnu ka Tilla, Delhi, to McLeod Ganj without turning into a comically-postured me-shaped block of human ice.Would you believe that there are air-conditioned buses which head there as well? I wonder what's the passenger survival rates on those runs are like.

The one I took was near the bottom-rung of the fare-scale because I'm hardcore like that. The seats were cramped and you can't recline the seats very far back. It's the sort of Indian bus which you expect to see in a Discovery Channel special where it's filled to bursting like a third world clown car with the excess passengers and their goats holding on to dear life on the luggage hold topside - but lucky me, my bus was half empty.

An elderly Tibetan monk garbed in the standard-issue maroon-and-saffron robes took a shine on me while I was waiting for my bus outside the refugee colony. He looks like a slightly better fed version of the current Dalai Lama and he told me that if I ran into any trouble, I should look him up. Or at least that's what I thought he said. He spoke to me in Mandarin, not mistaking even for one moment the mark of my heritage upon my face, and here I was thinking that I have one of those undefined Far Eastern mugs. The reason that I have reservations about being identifiably Chinese is that if it wasn't for China, the refugee colony wouldn't even exist in the first place. Oh well, at least all the Kashmiri hoteliers here thought I'm Korean or Japanese.

I have hard enough of a time understanding Mandarin as it is spoken in Malaysia, but faced with Mandarin as it is spoken in China (confounded further with a layer of Tibetan accent), it was as good as ancient Greek to me. Actually, I think I might have an easier time understanding Greek, having spent 5 years studying medical gobbledegook. I think it's out of sheer Buddhist patience that the monk didn't just throw up his hands in disgust after having to repeat everything he said to me at least ten times. I'll probably never see him again - I've already forgotten his unpronounceable name.

Sleeping was a kind of hardship on that bus due to poor ergonomics, but it was still easier than doing it sitting in an AirAsia economy seat (take that, Tony Fernandes). And I thought it was a good idea to wear freaking Bermudas to the Himachal Himalayas.I managed to wriggle out of my thin, cotton T-shirt and slip on something warmer, but the shorts had to stay on. Just in case any of you are worrying; both my balls made it safe and sound, thank you very much.

I'm fasting for freedom at the moment in solidarity with the languishing Tibetans of Ngaba and I expect to break it at 5:00 PM later today while the myriads of cosy cafés and inviting restaurants littering the town are giving my resolve a run for its money. Fasting for anything is a pointless gesture that will achieve exactly nothing, much like intercessory prayers, live sacrifices and communing with nature spirits. And no one's going to give a shit if you only stop eating from eleven to five. How is the Chinese government going to react to this? "Oooh, you not eat for six hours? We totally see error in our ways now!"? If you want anything done, do a hunger strike. Imagine the press it'll generate once the first starving striker dies. Anyway, I'm only doing it because I'd take any excuse to stop making deposits to the Bank of My Fat Ass, if only temporarily. The lard has got to go and to that end, I've walked so much in Delhi that blisters mushroomed out of the soles of my feet. I asked the receptionist at the Wongdhen House (where I stayed overnight at Majnu ka Tilla) for the directions to the nearest metro station, and she advised me to take an auto rickshaw there instead. Naturally, I took that as a challenge.

Is it weird that I'm feeling pleased about the blisters? I feel like nothing can pull me down right now.

My phone is dead at the mo, and my camera nearly so. I need to go shop for a universal power adapter so I can juice them up again. I'd need a local SIM card too, if only because it would to enable me to resume pestering the Long-Suffering Girlfriend™ with my pestilential thoughts. So, cheerio.

P.S. Do comment generously, whether you're a regular or have been reading silently all this while. I'm travelling alone, and it'd be nice if I get my minimal dosage of human contact through this tiny aperture - because bugger me if I'm going to chat up random travellers who think they are better than everyone else for having seen the world and shit.

This much closer to the sky,
k0k s3n w4i

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Goodbye, Readers

"Y can't u b my jorah mormont? he's so cool ok. He kissed her n told her he'd b true2 her 4ever :'( swear fealty to me nao :("

Phoebe in an SMS text

After she started reading the A Song of Ice and Fire series, I kept getting random messages like this.

In a few short hours, I expect go on a leisurely 2-kilometre morning hike to the Melaka Sentral where a shuttle bus will be waiting to whisk me to the unglamorously-named Low Cost Carrier Terminal. There I will board flight D72506 which is bound for the Indira Gandhi National Airport in Delhi, India, and I will not return till the end of April. Or I may never return - there's always that slender hair of possibility. Anyhow, in case these are my last words, remember that I died godless, doing what I love best: reading, writing and going places.

Everything I imagine I'll need is stuffed up tightly (and chaotically) in my black-and-orange backpack which, at the last weigh-in, is a very manageable 10 kilograms haul. I planned on taking two extra-thick books with me, but I threw in a third at the last minute, just in case.

Oh, I'm also taking along this clever little device,

Crank Torch
Fiat lux, motherfucker.
It is a dynamo LED torchlight, powered by whatever kinetic energy the muscles in my arms can generate. One minute of cranking produces twenty-five minutes of illumination. At full-charge, this baby can supposedly shine for two-and-a-half hours (but it certainly lasted longer than that when I field-tested it). But let me tell you; I never really appreciated light until I have to crank out every milli-candella with my bare hands.

It'll never need new batteries, so that's good for the environment and my wallet. Furthermore, there's zero risk that it'll run out of juice on me when I'm out camping on the mountainside. I'll be able to read all night long if I wish to, or at least so long as my arm is able to crank out the luminosity (I have had lots of practice doing repetitive motions for extended periods of time with my arms, let me tell you). One caveat is that the thing was made in China, so it remains to be seen how much of a piece of shit it really is.

I'll probably update this blog whenever I find a cyber cafe or an unattended laptop, much like how I did the last time I went traipsing about the subcontinent. Now, if you'll excuse me, I got some maps to study. My first hurdle upon touching down on Indian soil will be to navigate through the smoky, perilously labyrinthine, over-peopled city of Delhi - and to escape it. Destination? North!

I may be ahead of myself here, but I do declare that this is going to be grand.

P.S. Ah, just as I was about to step out the door, I discovered that a new episode of The Tobolowsky Files just came out, hot off the press. Excellent. Into my MP3 player it pops.

k0k s3n w4i